Welcome back to another exciting edition of Ye Olde School Café! This time around, we’ll be taking a look at one of my favorite single issues of all time! In Strange Tales #148, we see the awesome origin of the Ancient One! Yes, the master of Dr. Strange himself is quite an enigmatic character, but we’ll see his beginnings right here and now! Scripted by the incomparable Deny O’Neil, masterfully penciled by Bill Everett, and lettered by the always reliable Artie Simek! My copy of this issue is actually contained in Marvel Treasury Edition #6 (1975), which is chock full of magical mayhem!
Our story begins with Dr. Strange pleading with his master to seek out this new enemy, Kaluu. The Ancient One tells his pupil that it would be useless to try and find him, because he’s so cunning, they’d never find him if he doesn’t want to be found. You see, it’s the belief that Kaluu has stolen the Book of the Vishanti. An important artifact that can be used against the forces of good. The Ancient One then tells his disciple of a time (some 500 years ago!), in a land called Kamar-Taj, in the Himalayas, where a height of enlightenment had been reached, and also was the birthplace of Kaluu and the Ancient One! We see that the two young men were best of friends and sought out the power of magic through spells. After finally making a breakthrough, and achieving some of that goal, they were separated by different ideals. Kaluu used his powers of hypnosis to enslave most of the population to gain power, but the Ancient One studied and learned more spells, to become a master of their power. Kaluu still learned more as well, but not to the extent of his friend.
As years passed, Kaluu became an all powerful monarch, and treated his fellow brethren like slaves. This worried the Ancient One, but one day Kaluu visited him and told him it was time for conquest, and that the time of study was over. The Ancient One realized this might not be the best time to confront him, so he agreed to come with him, but secretly limited his powers using his own. The Ancient One tried to convince the people of Kaluu’s madness, but they wouldn’t listen.
As we flash back to the present, the Ancient One and Dr. Strange talk of how they’re going to retrieve the book of spells. At that very same moment, Kaluu realizes that the book cannot be used to attack, but only defend. He remarks that his former ally and his pupil would need this book of spells to stop his nearing assault. Back in ancient times, Kaluu casts a spell that will make all the people feel good, and not be upset about anything. The Ancient One fears that this lack of free will is ultimately wrong, and even though the people are “happy,” this will lead to ruin.
The day finally comes when the Ancient One confronts Kaluu about his treachery. Kaluu then commands a few soldiers to restrain his former friend, but as they try to, the Ancient One uses a spell to immobilize them. As his back is turned, Kaluu strikes, and hurts him badly. As the Ancient One is in suspended animation, Kaluu wages war across many lands, but over time, the people become complacent and lazy. Famine and sickness sweep across the lands, and Kaluu realizes that he’s losing all he had gained. He retreats into the nether-world, to plan another attack in the future! The Ancient One and his disciple then fear his coming in this new day and century, so they must prepare themselves for a war beyond belief!
Well, that’s it! The story of one of the most mysterious and oldest characters in the Marvel Universe! This character is one that gets very little attention outside of the magical books of the Marvel Universe, but he really has affected not only Dr. Strange, but in turn every life he has touched. Yes, that’s quite a lot of people! From Clea to the Avengers, all know of the magical mastery of the Ancient One! See you next time!